Paper, scissors and his mum’s computer - the three ingredients for young Sheffield entrepreneur Alex Gwynne’s creative success as a toy maker, as Star reporter Rachael Clegg finds out.
ALEX Gwynne had no idea what was in store when he started messing about with paper for his GCSE exam.
Stuck for inspiration for his final exam piece, Alex found some images of paper toys on the internet - and decided to make his own.
And, quickly, what started off as a one-off art project became a full-time obsession, one that eventually led to a business and a £40,000 cash injection as part of the AXA Ambition Awards last December.
Now Alex is a fully-fledged entrepreneur - and he’s just 19.
Indeed, Alex has come a long way since he made his first paper toy for school. Now the young designer - who is studying a foundation degree in Graphic Design at Norton College - has created more than 50 toys and has had almost 15,000 visitors to his AG Paper Toys site in just over a month.
“It sort of just happened,” says Alex, sitting among an army of his paper toys.
“I didn’t expect it all to take off like it did. I knew I wanted to create ‘urban toys’ for my GCSE exam, and that was it.”
‘Urban toys’ refers to toys that are part-action figure, part-collectable items, and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
The ‘toys’ are paper cutouts, designed by Alex and covered in colourful patterns and computer-generated textures.
The toys are downloadable for customers to print out flat at home, with clear lines showing where they need to be cut, folded and sticky-taped together.
They are quirky, accessible, colourful and clearly quite collectable.
But despite their impressive appearance, they are created on fairly basic software, as Alex explains.
“I just used Power Point,” he says. “People don’t realise but you can actually do quite a lot with Power Point.”
As his business has grown, taking on more and more commissioned work, Alex has started to branch out - and has at last bought his own computer... rather than using his mum’s.
“I was using my mum’s PC, which drove her a bit mad because she’d need it to read her emails and I’d be like, ‘Just a minute mum’.”
Now he’s juggling a part-time graphic design course and his work as the brains behind AG Paper Toys. “It’s strange because this is my hobby as well. So I do what I have to do for my commission work and then I carry on creating toys in my spare time.”
And despite blending his hobby into his occupation, Alex says he hasn’t got fed up of making paper toys.
“People say that as soon as something stops being your hobby and becomes your job you get bored of it, but the potential with this is such that I don’t think I’ll ever get bored.
“I won’t get any sleep either mind you!”
Alex admits his ideas often keep him awake - but daydreaming about his toys isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Because his customers download them as cut-out forms that require modelling, Alex has to imagine them as 2D drawings, 3D objects and 2D ‘nets’.
“It’s like I have a screen of vision in my head - I have to work in four dimensions, thinking about the drawing, the 3D object and the plan while thinking about how the 3D object can be ‘flattened-out’ into a 3D object.
“But that sounds a lot smarter than it actually is..!”
By the end of this year, Alex will have published a book and will have exhibited his toys for the public.
“I’m making a book of robot paper toys for a publishing company in London,” he reveals.
“It’s going to be called Robot Rumble.”
But it’s not just commissions Alex is working on.
He aims to release a ‘new toy a week’ as a way of retaining interest from his website followers, and this year will be launching a series of toys based on the Apocalypse, as 2012 is the year the Ancient Mayans predicted would witness the end of the world.
Then, in December, Alex will bring out a batch of Christmas toys.
“I have to start working on these projects now though,” he says, “because otherwise I will never get it done - I’m going to be releasing about 40 toys for Christmas as well as a paper toy advent calendar.”
Remarkably, Alex’s toys are free to download - he makes his wage from commissions. “I’m earning about an average wage now and I’m hoping that will go up,” he says.
Despite his success Alex is modest about his quirky enterprise, which is run from his bedroom in Woodseats.
“I don’t think I’ve done a lot really. I’m not really proud of myself because all I have done is stumbled into something - it’s not particularly clever.”
Looking at the intricacies of the toys he creates, that is clearly something of an understatement.